By Gita Negi:
That day I boarded a local bus to my home instead of taking a cycle rickshaw as I thought I could reach faster. It was hardly three in the afternoon which meant that the bus would not be overcrowded and I could travel comfortably. Because my stop was only 10 minutes away, I sat on one of the seats which was nearest to the door, without thinking much.
I did not even bother looking at the man who had already been occupying one of the twin seats. The fact that he was sitting on the window seat and I was on the aisle meant that I did not have to even look at him.
As I was waiting for my stop, gazing aimlessly inside the bus and buried in my thoughts, I casually turned my head to look out the window to check where the bus had reached. And just as I was about to turn my head away from the window, my sight fell on the grotesque image of his private parts, partially hidden with a sling bag. He had probably been sitting right beside me and waiting for me to look all this while. The fact that he had a bag on his lap meant that he knew when to cover up.
I cannot describe how sick, humiliated and numb I felt. The minute I gained control over my senses, I stood up and went near the door. I spent the rest of the journey standing on the footsteps with goosebumps all over my arms.
But when I reached home, I wondered why had I not screamed at him or called people’s attention towards him. What had stopped me then? I still sometimes recall that incident and wonder about my silence and passivity. But I think I have my answers now.
You see, when I had just reached puberty I remember one of our teachers telling us that henceforth we must remember that a girl is like a leaf while a boy is like a thorn. It does not matter whether the leaf falls on the thorn or vice versa, it is the leaf that will always be harmed.
In that moment, she had very cleverly told us that no matter who is right, it would be the girls who would always have to bear the consequences. And with this grand revelation, she had successfully laid the foundation of the culture of silence in our young impressionable minds. I sincerely hope they are not teaching this to young girls anymore.
And that is exactly what happened that afternoon. I adhered to her corrupt life lesson. I did not speak out because I was scared that people would blame me for looking and not him for exposing. It’s funny the way our society functions. It teaches us to look away or pretend that the ugliness does not exist while doing nothing about said ugliness. Isn’t it the same with men who pee in public? The shame is transferred on to the one who looks. And ironically breastfeeding mothers are shamed to cover up.
Anyway, even if they had supported me initially, later they would most probably have questioned my decision of sitting with a man, even though that seat was reserved for ladies. So, by being quiet I had actually tried to save myself from all the judgement that would have invariably come later on. I have to confess, I was pretty weak then.
I was also afraid that, in future, if something similar were to happen to me again and I raise my voice, people would wonder why such things kept happening only to me. They would most certainly conclude that probably I was ‘asking for it’.
And then they would compare me to Sharmaji’s, Guptaji’s and all other ji’s daughters and wonder how nothing similar ever happened with them. Of course, such people know that street harassment is as common as street dogs, but they expect ‘good’ girls to not talk about it for the exact same reasons I have cited above.
Interestingly, this entire facade of pretending that eve teasing or sexual harassment does not exist is actually a boon for the perpetrators. It is because they know that the ‘victim’, and not they, would be shamed or silenced, that they feel empowered to harass. It’s like a silly game where the culprit feeds off the victim’s silence.
It must have been years since that day when I felt revolted and weak at the same time. I have grown to understand that looking away is not the solution nor is keeping quiet. Questioning, making someone answerable, putting the shame back where it belongs and fighting for what is right, however, is.
Featured image for representation only. Source: Wikipedia.